SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach, Paul Thompson, insists nothing has changed for his team despite them finally being in control of their own destiny over the Elite League title.
A 5-2 defeat at Belfast Giants for second-placed Cardiff Devils on Wednesday night handed the initiative back to the Steelers at this late stage, the South Yorkshire club having only ascended to first place in the table for the first time this season less than a fortnight ago.
The requirements for Thompson’s team are quite simple – win their games against Nottingham Panthers and Fife Flyers this weekend and a fifth Elite League title is theirs.
Succeeding in that mission, Thompson admits, will be a far from simple affair, particularly tonight’s clash at Sheffield Arena against Nottingham, who would love nothing more than to deny their arch-rivals lifting the regular season crown.
“What happened on Wednesday night in Belfast doesn’t change a great deal for us,” said Thompson. “We were always likely to need to win both games and that is still our focus.
“We can only think about the Nottingham game for now and we know they will be desperate to stop us winning that title.
“There is always an extra level of passion and tension when our two clubs meet up and with us going for the title it’s added that extra bit of spice.
“They are a great team with threats all over the ice but, you know what? We are a great team too and that’s why we find ourselves in the position we do.”
While the Steelers host Nottingham in an anticipated sell-out, Cardiff head to Manchester Storm, whose season is effectively over after missing out on the play-offs.
As Steelers head to Fife tomorrow, Cardiff return home to play host to Nottingham, meaning the Challenge Cup winners perhaps play the most pivotal role over the course of the whole weekend.
Panthers’ coach Corey Neilson admitted his team would love nothing more than to spoil the Steelers’ title party, particularly after Thompson’s ended their own title hopes with a 4-2 victory in Nottingham last weekend.
“They’re a team we feel we can beat and I thought we were the better team last week,” said Neilson. “It’s always a 50/50 game with them. We’ve had some good battles. We certainly want to make it ever so tough for them.”